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Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

Examples of how human societies are changing the planet abound – from building roads and houses, clearing forests for agriculture and digging train tunnels, to shrinking the ozone layer, driving species extinct, changing the climate and acidifying the oceans. Human impacts are everywhere. Our societies have changed Earth so much that it’s impossible to reverse many of these effects

Nuclear bomb testing left its mark in the geologic record. National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Some researchers believe these changes are so big that they mark the beginning of a new “human age” of Earth history, the Anthropocene epoch. A committee of geologists has now proposed to mark the start of the Anthropocene in the mid-20th century, based on a striking indicator: the widely scattered radioactive dust from nuclear bomb tests in the early 1950s.

But this is not the final word.

Not everyone is sure that today’s industrialized, globalized societies will be around long enough to define a new geological epoch. Perhaps we are just a flash in the pan – an event – rather than a long, enduring epoch. 

Others debate the utility of picking a single thin line in Earth’s geological record to mark the start of human impacts in the geological record. Maybe the Anthropocene began at different times in different parts of the world. For example, the first instances of agriculture emerged at different places at different times, and resulted in huge impacts on the environment, through land clearing, habitat losses, extinctions, erosion and carbon emissions, forever changing the global climate.

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